One for the Road

Getting to the AFLC Annual Conference last month involved a two-day road trip. My husband and I spent a lot of hours in the car, and as we drove, we listened to Christian music. I thought I’d share one of those hymns today.

It was written by Julia Harriette Johnston (1849-1919), the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. Julia wrote several books and also about 500 hymn texts. “Grace Greater than Our Sin” is the one that is most frequently used. In it the theme of God’s amazing grace (seen most clearly through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross) is contrasted with our own sin and guilt.

The scriptural basis can be found in Paul’s teaching of justification by faith in Romans 5:1-2:

“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

For more hymns see these posts:

O Holy Jesus

I Lay My Sins on Jesus

The Navy Hymn

Behold the Man #2

I posted earlier this month about a phrase that caught my attention —Behold the Man!–this is what Pilate said when he brought Jesus out to face the crowd demanding his crucifixion. God evidently isn’t done with teaching me about this yet, because it came up again, in a different form.

My husband and I watched a miniseries entitled North Water. It tells a dark and disturbing story that I didn’t especially enjoy. However, the first episode was called “Behold the Man!” so that got my attention. Now, this series has nothing to do with Jesus. It focuses on the depravity of man. The main character, a surgeon named Patrick Sumner, suffers betrayal and is exposed to all sorts of difficult experiences. He encounters thievery, perversion, murder, selfishness, addiction and more. He almost dies as the result of the sinful behavior of others. He starts out as a “good” person who wants to do the right things, but by the end of the story he also kills a man and steals his money. Some would say his behavior was justified because he was trying to right the wrong that had been committed against him, but sin is still sin.

So, what is my takeaway from this? The comparison between the human being Christ was (sinless) and the human being I am (sinful). Christ was able to suffer many of the same things Patrick did. He was betrayed, deserted, mocked, beaten and finally killed. Yet, as the Bible tells us:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Patrick cracked under the strain of sin. He couldn’t be righteous. He needed a Savior. So do you and I! Behold the man Christ, and behold yourself. Be thankful He could do what we cannot.

For more posts about the atonement of Christ see:

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Most Certainly True

Interactive Study Blog – Hebrews Chapter 10

The Wondrous Cross

In my last post, I wrote about John Stott, and his belief in the doctrine of the atonement as central to our Christian faith.  Some theologians today wish to downplay Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, even going so far as to call it “divine child abuse.”  (this reveals an improper understanding of the trinity, but that’s for another day).  Seems like many hymnists over the years disagree with this viewpoint, because there is an abundance of Christian songs which celebrate the cross.

Isaac Watts wrote one of them in 1707 — When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  Watts is known as the father of English hymnody.  He broke tradition by publishing a book of hymns.  Most English churches at that time used only the Old Testament Psalms in public worship, but Watts believed that Christians should be able to celebrate all the aspects of the gospel proclaimed in the New Testament as well.  Below is a quote from the preface of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, in which he defends his view:

“Many Ministers and many private Christians have long groaned under this Inconvenience, and have wished rather than attempted a Reformation: At their importunate and repeated Requests I have for some Years past devoted many Hours of leisure to this Service. Far be it from my Thoughts to lay aside the Psalms of David in public Worship; few can pretend so great a Value for them as my self . . . But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand Lines in it which were not made for a Saint in our Day, to assume as his own; There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied in the Writings of the New Testament; and with this Advantage I have composed these spiritual Songs which are now presented to the World.”

And here is his famous hymn about the wondrous cross:

For more hymns by Isaac Watts:

O God Our Help

Joy to the World


An Uncertain Life

William Cowper, born in 1731, was a hymn writer who was also a secular poet.  He led an uneasy, troubled life due to many emotional difficulties.  He suffered panic attacks and bouts of depression.  It was during a time of despair that he wrote one of his most well-known hymn, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. It is based on Zechariah 13:1:

                                                                                                        “On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”

Listen and enjoy this meditation on the saving blood of Christ.  In an uncertain life, you can be sure that the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient.

The Agnus Dei

“Agnus Dei” is a Latin phrase which literally means, “lamb of God.”  If you are a Lutheran (or Catholic or Anglican) you will know that it is a liturgical prayer addressed to Christ, our Savior, the lamb who was sacrificed for us. It is based upon these words spoken by John the Baptist:

   “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  John 1:29

It has been included in the liturgy since the 12th century, and used in choral pieces by many famous composers.  In our church we sing it before Holy Communion.  These are the words:

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us! Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace!”

The themes are forgiveness and sacrifice, appropriate as we approach the table of the Lord and remember His last supper with the disciples.

For more on the liturgy go to these posts:

Learning from the Liturgy

The Laity and Liturgy

Liturgy as Prayer



In Remembrance of Me

We hear those words on Sunday when we take Communion.  We need to come to the altar with the mindset of remembering that Jesus died on the cross for us.

Being the music person I am, I found a song.  “Remember” by Laura Story is a beautiful song, very simple, but the words are true:

This is the body that was torn for us
This is the blood that was spilt
Points to the pain you endured for us
Points to the shame, the blame, the guilt

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come
Move our hearts to remember

This is the Lamb who was slain for us
So we the church may enter in
So bitter sweet when we think of You
The One who bore our curse, our sin

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come
Move our hearts to remember, to remember

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come
Move our hearts to remember